Nearly every Friday at the Perkins’ household, we have Family Movie Night together. The evening basically involves eating pizza on the couch, sipping root beer, and watching a kid-appropriate movie, then dealing with two over-excited boys who would rather battle whatever villain we just encountered in the movie than go to bed.
My boys prefer plain cheese pizza. Dan and I, however, like our pizza topped with caramelized onions, thin slices of pear, mozzarella, parmesan, and goat cheese. So every Friday afternoon around three, I heat a few pats of butter and a little olive oil in the cast iron skillet, slice a couple onions, and, slowly, our home fills with the aroma of onions cooking down into savory-sweetness.
What does all this have to do with a salad? Well, one time, a while back, I got a little carried away with the toppings prep, and I ended up with more than we could put on a pizza. At our house, leftovers have a tendency to end up on a bed of greens. The onions/pears/goat cheese combo was no exception—and we discovered it was just as good as a salad as it was on a pizza.
You’ll want to start this recipe by caramelizing the onions, as this process takes a little while. I begin by heating my cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Once it’s hot, I add the fats—butter and olive oil—and wait for them to sizzle. Meanwhile, thinly slice (about 1/8”) two large yellow onions, then toss them in the skillet, stir them around to coat with the butter and oil, and turn the heat to low. Now you’re going to let them cook down for 45-60 minutes, stirring them every 10 minutes or so. The key to caramelizing onions is allowing them to cook slowly (for more details, check out this site), so now is a good time to prep your other ingredients.
Thinly slice three small pears—I use d’Anjou here—and set aside. Trim the stems from your baby beet greens, and place in a salad bowl for a family-style meal or on small plates for individual servings. A quick note here on the greens. I’m using beet greens in this recipe because their firm texture holds up well under the heated onions and pears which will eventually top them, and because I like their subtle, earthy beet flavor. They’re also incredibly good for you, including nutrients such as choline and folate. If you don’t have beet greens, try spinach or a salad mix.
Now it’s time to go back to those onions. Once they’re finished cooking, you’re ready to deglaze and scrape up the little bits of flavor on the bottom of the skillet. I used ¼ cup cooking sherry today, but sometimes I use balsamic vinegar if I’m in the mood for a little kick. If you don’t have either of those in the house, try wine or even water for this step.
Leaving the onions in the skillet and the heat on low, add your sliced pears to the skillet and gently stir, combining them with the onions. Cook the onion and pears together for about five minutes, just enough to soften the pears but not so much that they start falling apart. Add salt and ground pepper to taste.
Your salad’s almost ready! Spoon the hot onion/pear mix onto your bed of greens. Sprinkle goat cheese and freshly grated parmesan over the top—the goat cheese should melt just a little as it makes contact with the pears and onions.
Now go ahead and enjoy your salad. And you never know. You might even have enough toppings left over to make a pizza.
Photography and Food Styling: Anne Kingma